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The Ethics of Eating Meat - Animals and Society Class Discussion

Q: After reviewing the course materials for Weeks 6 and 7, discuss the concepts of moral equality and moral recognition. How do they impact the treatment of animals and people? What are the ethics of keeping animals in captivity and killing animals? How do animals become meat? How does the consumption of meat establish borders between classes, races and genders? What are some of the ethical questions surrounding the consumption of animals? 

Photo by Christopher Carson on Unsplash

A: Moral equality is the principle that all people have equal human rights – or that at least is the way it should be; the ideal. Moral recognition is the acknowledgement that there are differences between various groups of people (different genders, races, beliefs, behaviors, levels of intelligence, etc.), but the ideal of equality should still be applied; the differences should not merit different treatment. 

However, this idealized equality – which we still struggle to apply to all people – is most definitely not applied to animals. The simple fact that we have decided some animals are food, while others are beloved companions, means that we are not applying moral equality to our perception of animals at all. In all the long history of awful things we have done to one another, we have never unapologetically or gleefully eaten each other. We have never said, I feel bad about killing the Germans, but c’mon, they taste like bacon. So, the idea that we apply moral equality to non-human animals is ridiculous, in my opinion. We barely manage to apply it to other people most of the time. 

The eating of meat, which according to this week’s readings, was never widespread before the 19th century used to be the reserve of the wealthy, the elite, and the males of the world. The excerpt from The Animals Reader by Carol J. Adams on “The Sexual Politics of Meat” was especially interesting to me, since I hadn’t really been aware of 1) how culturally masculine meat eating is still considered, and 2) how literally masculine meat eating used to be. 

After reading the excerpt, I can clearly see this connection in our culture between men and meat. And the fact that meat used to be eaten by men almost exclusively was another eye opener for me. I had never thought that just because of their higher perceived status in the family, or the perception that they needed the meat for the strength to word hard, meant that the women and children of the family were lucky to get a few bites of meat once a week. 

I think the thing that is the most ethically challenging, at least for me, about eating meat is the industrialization of factory farming. The cruelty toward the animals, in both life and death, the workers, and the environment – all in the name of maximizing already obscenely high profits. 

Yes, the basic question is does my enjoyment of the taste of bacon supersede the right of the pig to live. And my obvious answer to that is no – I don’t have a right to kill something because it’s tasty. But I do it, or at least I order it to be done because I eat bacon, sausage, pork chops, etc., … partly because I think of them as bacon and sausage and not a cute little pig that’s actually smarter than my dogs. 

But if I’m being honest, it’s the miserable lives and heartlessly efficient deaths that make me feel bad, not the fact I killed something. I’m really not sure what that says about me, or what it means. Why would I be fine with eating bacon that came from a pig that lived a happy healthy life in a natural, spacious, sunshine-filled environment? 

Why do I imagine I can taste the suffering in a pork chop from the grocery store, but feel fine about getting cage-free eggs from the farmers market? 

It’s all animal exploitation of one form or another. 

I'm still trying to reconcile my actions and the answers I get when I ask myself the basic ethical questions, because they don't agree.


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